Thefts in tourist areas hurt Cayman’s tourism industry, Magistrate Kirsty-Ann Gunn said on Thursday, and it does not matter if the thief is a resident or a visitor.
She made the comment while sentencing Mark Allan Geier, 43, who pleaded guilty to stealing a backpack at a Seven Mile Beach resort on Jan. 1, New Year’s Day.
The magistrate sentenced Mr. Geier to four months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, a fine of US$750 and a compensation order for US$1,337.35.
The magistrate said she found both the offense and the explanation for it to be puzzling and contradictory.
Mr. Geier had said he had found the backpack and thought it belonged to a family member, so he carried it back to their room. The magistrate said that was an honest mistake, but what happened afterward was dishonest.
His wife had told him that the backpack did not belong to anyone in their group and said he should take it back.
Instead, he went through items in the backpack and disposed of some of them. “You crossed the line and acted dishonestly,” the magistrate told Mr. Geier.
Crown counsel Kenneth Ferguson explained that the backpack belonged to a university student who was at the resort with relatives. The defendant and his family were also staying there as visitors from Minnesota.
Some time between 7:15 p.m. and 8:15 p.m., the backpack was stolen from a lawn chair at the restaurant of the hotel. The owner, using an app, learned that her cellphone, which had been in the backpack, was still on the property. Hotel personnel were alerted and CCTV footage was looked at.
The complainant and a relative went to Mr. Geier’s room and he asked them if the backpack was what they were looking for. By that time, the complainant’s father had called police.
The complainant checked the backpack and found her iPhone and wallet, but the wallet was empty. It had contained two debit cards, two credit cards, US$60, a Cayman driving license, university identification, and a key ring with a car key and house keys.
Police searched the room and found missing items in garbage bins in the kitchen and bathroom, but the debit and credit cards, money and keys were not found, Mr. Ferguson said. Police arrested both Mr. Geier and his wife.
When interviewed, Mr. Geier explained why he had picked up the backpack, but said he did not know how the items found in the trash bins got there.
By Thursday afternoon, the keys and credit/debit cards had not been found, the prosecutor confirmed. He also advised that the matter did not proceed any further against the wife.
When the defendant first came before the court on Thursday morning, defense attorney John Furniss advised that Mr. Geier was suffering from the onset of Alzheimer’s disease, but had not traveled with any medical records to show this history. The matter was adjourned until 2 p.m. when all parties agreed that appropriate documentation sent to the courthouse by Mr. Geier’s treatment providers had been reviewed.
The magistrate asked if the defense accepted that there had been an intention to permanently deprive.
Mr. Furniss said Mr. Geier accepted taking items out of the backpack, but said he had no memory of the missing items. He accepted having the requisite intention.
Mr. Furniss asked the court to distinguish Mr. Geier from “someone who sets out to prey on tourists.” He also asked that the matter proceed to sentence, since the defendant and his family wished to leave the island on Saturday.
Both counsel referred to previous cases of theft from tourist areas, in which the court had said the appropriate starting point was 12 months’ imprisonment.
The magistrate agreed, pointing out that such thefts undermine a visitor’s sense of security. People should be able to walk away from their items and expect to find them when they return, she said.
In Mr. Geier’s case, she said his had been an opportunistic theft, since there was no evidence he was targeting any particular victim. She considered his medical condition and concluded she could discount the 12 months down to six months.
With a one-third further discount for the guilty plea, the sentence was four months.
She concluded that placing him in prison would only add a burden to the public purse.
She suspended the sentence for two years, advising that if Mr. Geier committed another offense in the Cayman Islands within that time period, he would go to prison for this offense. She also imposed a fine of US$750.
The complainant had requested compensation, including her father’s lost wages for the time he had spent being involved in the resolution of this matter. The magistrate ordered compensation totaling US$1,337.35 to cover the cost of replacing missing items and the lost wages.
Both sums were to be paid by 3 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 5. In lieu of payment, Mr. Geier would serve 60 days in custody for the fine and 90 days consecutive for the compensation.